Vladimir Putin is directing generals personally with morale among Russian troops said to be in tatters after almost seven months of war in Ukraine. On the back foot in the east and south of Ukraine, Russia’s military top brass are divided over how best to counter Kyiv’s advances.
Two sources familiar with western intelligence have said Putin is giving orders directly to generals in the field.
The sources told CNN Putin’s direct involvement in battlefield decision-making hinted at a dysfunctional command hierarchy which has plagued Russia’s war effort since the invasion began on February 24.
Multiple sources said military leaders have struggled to agree on where to focus their efforts.
Sources also say the majority of Russian troops are in south Ukraine despite the Russian Ministry of Defence saying it is sending forces to Kharkiv in the northeast.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in its latest intelligence update Putin’s partial mobilisation would involve 300,000 reserve troops.
It added: “Russia is likely to struggle with the logistical and administrative challenges of even mustering the 300,000 personnel. It will probably attempt to stand up new formations with many of these troops, which are unlikely to be combat effective for months.
“Even this limited mobilisation is likely to be highly unpopular with parts of the Russian population. Putin is accepting considerable political risk in the hope of generating much needed combat power. The move is effectively an admission Russia has exhausted its supply of willing volunteers to fight in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, an explosion hit a crowded market in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol today (September 22), according to Ukrainian and Russian-installed officials.
It came on the eve of referendums which could see four regions effectively annexed by Russia.
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Pro-Russian figures announced referendums for September 23 to 27 in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, representing about 15 percent of Ukrainian territory.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said any weapons in Moscow’s arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used to defend territories incorporated into Russia from Ukraine.
Putin had said in a televised address: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people – this is not a bluff.”
Western allies said threats to use nuclear weapons show Russia’s campaign in Ukraine was failing.
US President Joe Biden said Moscow was making reckless and irresponsible threats to use nuclear weapons.
He added no one had threatened Russia, despite its claims to the contrary, and only Moscow had sought conflict.
Prime Minister Liz Truss accused the Russian president of sabre rattling.
Ms Truss, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, praised the “strength of collective purpose” in response to Mr Putin’s invasion so far, but warned that support for Ukraine must not wane.
She said on Wednesday: “In Ukraine, barbarous weapons are being used to kill and maim people. Rape is being used as an instrument of war. Families are being torn apart.
“And this morning we have seen Putin desperately trying to justify his catastrophic failures. He is doubling down by sending even more reservists to a terrible fate.
“He is desperately trying to claim the mantle of democracy for a regime without human rights or freedoms. And he is making yet more bogus claims and sabre-rattling threats.
“This will not work. The international alliance is strong – Ukraine is strong.”